Saturday, May 9, 2009

Mothers Day, Domestic Violence Programs and Health Care for Pregnant Women

Not all mothers are being pampered today. Each year more than 2.5 million American women experience domestic violence and approximately 325,000 of them are pregnant. 

For many women, abuse first begins during pregnancy, with women of all races about equally vulnerable. Of those assaulted before pregnancy, half will be attacked again afterward. Although emotional distress, low self-esteem, teen pregnancy, single status, lower education level, unemployment, and unplanned pregnancy may increase the risk of assault, every woman is potentially at risk.

Domestic abuse and violence against pregnant women has immediate and lasting effects. While some of the complications you might suspect are present, such as immediate injury to the woman or her baby, there are also other effects on the pregnancy.

Many women who are battered during pregnancy will continue unhealthy habits due to stress, such as smoking, resorting to drug use and improper nutritional habits. These also affect the pregnancy.

Physical impact of abuse during pregnancy include:

  • Injury to the uterus
  • Miscarriage, stillbirth or premature baby
  • Getting a dangerous vaginal infection from forced or unprotected sex with someone who has an infection
  • Increased first and second trimester bleeding

Violence also increases the baby's risk of:

  • Weighing too little at birth
  • Having trouble nursing or taking a bottle
  • Having sleeping problems
  • Being harder to comfort than other babies
  • Having problems learning to walk, talk and learn normally
  • Experiencing lasting emotional trauma
  • Being physically and sexually abused
  • Being hurt during a fight 
Health care settings provide an immense opportunity for advocates and health care providers to address the problem of domestic violence in pregnancy and beyond. Patients who are at risk of abuse, who are being abused, or have been abused are likely to seek services for regular health care, injuries, or chronic health problems related to abuse. This provides opportunities to prevent or respond to domestic violence by identifying patients who are using violence or being abused, documenting abuse, guiding patients affected by domestic violence in safety planning, and making referrals to advocates. Health care providers are also in a unique position to engage in primary prevention. This can be done by disseminating information about domestic violence through on-going dialogue with patients about healthy relationships or by educating against domestic violence through posters, pamphlets, and brochures.

Mother's Day is a symbolic time to assess your programs relationship with health care providers and begin bridge the gap in services to create seamless advocacy for abused moms and moms-to-be.

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